Kraft Heinz to close Federalsburg plant; Dover facility survives

Kraft Heinz announced Wednesday it would close seven factories in North America. While the Dover factory on West North Street will remain open, the factory in Federalsburg, Maryland, will shut down in one to two years. (Delaware State News file)

Kraft Heinz announced Wednesday it would close seven factories in North America. While the Dover factory on West North Street will remain open, the factory in Federalsburg, Maryland, will shut down in one to two years. (Delaware State News file)

DOVER — A manufacturing plant that has been a key component in Dover’s economic well-being for more than 50 years appears to have survived just-announced closures by Kraft Heinz.

The factory in nearby Federalsburg, Maryland, however, did not.

It was one of seven that Kraft Heinz will close in North America over the next two years as part of a downsizing that will shed 2,600 jobs.

In addition to the Federalsburg plant, the company said Wednesday it will close U.S. manufacturing facilities in Fullerton and San Leandro, California; Campbell, New York; Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania; and Madison, Wisconsin. A plant also will close in St. Marys, Ontario.

The closures will occur in the next 12 to 24 months.

The company also will close its meat-processing plant in Davenport, Iowa, and move production to a new facility that will be built nearby.

According to a 2010 article in the Easton, Maryland, Star Democrat, Kraft bought the General Mills factory in Federalsburg in 2010 and at that time made bread crumbs used in Stove Top stuffing.

Federalsburg Mayor Chuck Planner said Wednesday the factory employs 89. He said a letter from Kraft Heinz said the closure will be over the next 12 to 24 months.

“It was certainly a shock,” he said. “Shocked everybody, including those at the plant.”

Kraft Heinz said in the letter that it will work with employees through the closure process, according to the mayor.

The factory, which the mayor said makes croutons, is one of the largest employers in Federalsburg, southeast of Bridgeville and just across the Delaware-Maryland border.

“I’m hoping the employees can find work locally,” Mayor Planner said.

He’s also looking to the future and the hit to the town’s tax revenue, generated by Kraft Heinz.

“We still have got a lot of irons in the fire,” he said, “and are trying to figure where we are, where we are going.”

With the one- to two-year grace period, the town has time to think about what to do, and to court another business to take over the facility, Mayor Planner said.

“Maybe we can talk them into staying.”

The Kraft Heinz factory in Dover, located 1250 W. North St., employs 562 people, according to a presentation by Dover plant manager Justin Cressler at the Kent Economic Summit in September.

Many business experts expected consolidation and downsizing in the wake of the merger of Kraft and Heinz earlier this year. In August, Kraft Heinz cut 2,500 non-factory jobs.

“I’m sure that with the Heinz acquisition of Kraft, all the Kraft facilities had to be under review,” James Waddington, director of Kent County Economic Partnership, said Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m relieved that Dover was not one.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen feigned wiping his brow in relief when asked Wednesday evening how he felt about the Dover Kraft factory remaining open.

“They’ve been a presence in Dover for 50 years and we’ve met with the plant manager and his staff to make sure that we could do whatever was possible to maintain those 500 jobs,” he said.

The company not only employs many people, he said, but also is a big taxpayer for the city.

Mr. Waddington remains optimistic about Kraft Heinz presence in Kent County.

“I have a lot of confidence in the local management in the Kraft Dover facility and I think they have done a great job of positioning themselves to survive this restructure,” he said.

It’s not just the importance of the 500-plus jobs, that makes Kraft important in Dover.

“Kraft is a major employer, a manufacturer,”  he said, “and manufacturing jobs are in the $40,000 salary range, and that’s important.”

As of Wednesday evening it was not known if or how the Federalsburg closure could impact the one in Dover.

The Maryland facility’s bread crumbs went to Dover, according to the Star-Democrat.

Products produced at Dover include Jell-O Gelatin & Pudding, Sure Jell, Baker’s Coconut, Knox Gelatin, Stove Top stuffing mix, Kool-Aid, Country Time, Crystal Light and Shake ‘n Bake.

Bread crumbs were one of the facts about Kraft Dover listed by Mr. Cressler in September. The facility consumes 32 million pounds of breadcrumbs a year. That’s enough to fill 890 trucks.

It also:

• Consumes 14 billion teaspoons, or 146 million pounds, of sugar a year;

• Produces enough Crystal Light drink sticks to go around the world at least one time;

• And can fit almost 21 football fields in the facility.

In September 2014 Kraft celebrated 50 years in Delaware, getting its start when General Foods selected Dover as the site for a new plant that at the time of the 1963 announcement was the company’s largest capital investment. It planned on employing 1,300 people.

When it went into operation in 1964, the Dover plant was General Food’s largest in terms of products produced. Those products included Jell-O gelatin and pudding mixes, Log Cabin syrup and Baker’s chocolate products.

The chocolate division was moved to Canada in 1992.

General Foods consolidated with Kraft in 1995.

The Associated Press and Delaware State News reporter Matt Bittle contributed to this report.

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